There is an interesting post at Pontifications concerning the many flavors and varieties of Catholic grace. Given my background in the Lutheran tradition (where "grace" is simply grace), I've always been a bit bewildered by the abundance of graces that are found in Catholic theology (prevenient grace, justifying grace, created grace, uncreated grace, and so on). The Pontifications post has cleared up some of my confusion, although I must admit that my newfound understanding of the Catholic position has not made it any more palatable. Quite the contrary. Take, for instance, this passage on created and uncreated grace:
The primary and foundational meaning of grace within Catholic doctrine is uncreated grace: in infinite love God gives himself to human beings and comes to dwell within them. This gift of uncreated grace, however, requires the transformation of the soul. The finite human being must be made capable of receiving the indwelling presence of the infinite Creator. By grace our nature must be elevated and brought into a new supernatural life; by grace we must be endowed with a capacity that we do not presently possess—the capacity to participate in the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This new capacity is created grace. “Created grace,” Journet explains, “is a reality, a quality, a light that enables the soul to receive worthily the indwelling of the three divine Persons” (p. 7). Moreover, this quality is not temporary or occasional but is permanent or habitual: it is “an endowment we possess continuously and which is the source in us of activity. The divine action, when it takes hold of me—say that I am in the state of sin—and if I open myself to it, places me in the state of grace, that is to say in a stable condition of grace.
I find this passage to be a useful reminder of the enormous distance that still exists between the Catholic and Lutheran positions on justification. Indeed, it makes it abundantly clear that when Lutherans and Catholics use the word "grace", they are talking about two totally different things! From the Catholic perspective, grace is a "capacity" and a "reality" that humans possess within themselves. Justification is then viewed as the last step in the long process of sanctification:
To be justified is to have received sanctifying grace is to be possessed by the love of God is to be indwelt by the Holy Trinity is. Or in Journet’s words: “[Justification] is the moment when, the sequence of graces being unbroken, all at once the flower gives its fruit; the love of God invading the soul sets it on the plane of grace and charity, sanctifies it interiorly, and there results the indwelling of the Trinity”
Thus, in the act of justification, God justifies the already justified (akin perhaps to the conferral of a diploma after four years of college). Of course, Catholics would argue that they avoid Pelagianism because grace is required for each step in the transition from sinner to sanctified believer. However, it seems to me that the Pontifications post is clearly advocating in favor of a synergism whereby the human being also contributes to his/her salvation:
In the mystery of grace we cooperate with God in the process of sanctification, bearing fruit unto eternal life. Our good acts are wholly from God as first cause and wholly from man as secondary cause. “When God crowns our merits,” St Augustine writes, “he crowns his own gifts.” What is crucial to remember is that our free acts of faith and love are not autonomous: they are acts enveloped and penetrated by divine grace within a state of grace, leading us to our final and supreme end in Christ. God offers us grace sufficient to freely cooperate with him in a life of discipleship, and in faithfulness to his promises, he rewards our faith with the fullness of eternal salvation. He rewards us with that which he has already given us.
Over and against the Catholic position, Luther held that grace and righteousness is never something that we possess; it is always extrinsic to our being, an alien righteousness. There is nothing within ourselves that can contribute to our salvation, nothing of ours that we can point to and say "we are justified." We are simul iustus et peccator - a formulation that the Catholic Church has never understood, much less accepted.
In my opinion, these fundamental differences concerning the nature of grace make a mockery of the so-called consensus proclaimed in the Joint Declaration. Either the participants of such ecumenical discussions are simply talking past each other (by understanding the same word to mean very different things), or they are being dishonest about the extent of their progress. Regardless, in this age of knee-jerk ecumenism, it is imperative for both sides remain clear-headed about the chasm that still (tragically) divides our two churches.